A Call to Arms

This post is not only about Kensington and Philadelphia but also the two crises that profoundly affected the residents of both and the entire country.

This is an early Veterans Day (Nov. 11) post.

A Call to Arms

It was late October 1962. I was working for Siefert Plumbing (Olney) as an apprentice, which means I did grunt work. On this day, I was delivering bathtubs to a construction site and wasn’t looking forward to slogging them to the third floor of the building. I set the radio to my favorite station and listened to the Shirelles’ song Soldier Boy. 

The song made me think of my future. In Kensington and every other working neighborhood, there was a very good chance a kid of eighteen like me would end up drafted by the time they were twenty. That meant two years of service, probably as a foot soldier in the Army. My brother, four years older than me, had recently joined the Navy, and I thought maybe I would do the same. I thought the Air Force would also be a good choice for me.

As I contemplated my future, breaking news interrupted the song. What was said created shivers down my spine. It seems the Russians had been placing nuclear missiles in the recently communist country of Cuba. I knew that Cuba was very close and that it was an act of war. I mean, during the entire 1950s, my school classes practiced how to survive a nuclear attack from the Russians. Now, it was a distinct possibility.

I pulled the big box truck to the side of the road so I could think. This announcement gave me two good reasons to sign up for the military. First, I wanted to serve as my uncles did during WW2 and second, I wanted a different career path. My decision was made. I would join the United States Air Force as it was my best choice for both. The four-year enlistment would be worth it. For thirteen days, we expected to be evaporated by nuclear bombs. Finally, the crisis ended, and both parties came to an uneasy agreement.

U.S. military personnel from all branches increased by 331,384 in 1962. I don’t doubt that much of that was young people responding to the “call to arms.” On November 27, 1962, after taking the tests and being accepted by the Air Force, I pledged to protect our country, just as many others had. 

Two years later (1964), I was an Air Force Photographer with photo lab expertise and was sent to Saigon, Vietnam, to process film taken by the U2 Aircraft pilots. It was the same aircraft type that first spotted the missiles in Cuba. Until then, I had no idea where or what Vietnam was and even that there was a war going on. So, in a way, I, and many others, did respond to the call to arms, but just to a different conflict.

Over 58,000 U.S. military personnel died in the Vietnam war. Most were from my generation, and the largest group to lose their lives were from 18 to 21. Pennsylvania lost almost 3,100 residents, and 731,411 were and are Vietnam veterans.

It is estimated that around 300,000 Vietnam vets suffer from the effects of Agent Orange, and a large number have suffered and died from it.  Many Vietnam Vets are gone now. Of the 2,709,918 Americans who served in Vietnam, less than 850,000 are estimated to be alive in 2023.

I am one of them. By 1966, I was married, honorably discharged from the Air Force, and began my photography career. I was and am one of the lucky ones. Sixty-one years later, I remember it like it was yesterday.

My service did not include flying planes over Hanoi, landing in battle zones in a helicopter, or trekking through jungles to find the enemy while avoiding poisonous snakes, foot-long centipedes, and the occasional tiger. I have a deep appreciation for those who did, especially those wounded, who died and who suffered from their war service.

I want to honor three of my friends who did. They are from the Frankford/Kensington area. The First is Jim. Jim spent several years in Vietnam in the army and has the medals to prove his courage. The second friend is Butch, also decorated for courage and Harry E., a forward observer in the Marines. By the way, a forward observer is one of the most dangerous jobs. Jim and Butch continue to suffer from the effects of battle and Agent Orange. I lost track of Harry E., but I am sure he struggled with the same issues.

May God bless all our veterans still living and those who have crossed over.

Do you have a story from those times, or do you have a veteran family member you want to honor? Tell us about it and them.

Image from U2 Aircraft of Russian missiles in Cuba. 1962

It was common to duck and cover as training in case we were bombed by the Russians. The threat of nuclear annihilation was real.

My brother Bill Hallman.

Harry Hallman standing in front of my Air Force school in 1963.

Gold Star Mothers stand surrounded by flags after the war memorial parade in Philadlphia.

War memorial plaque at Edison High 197. They had the highest number of students killed in Vietnam in the USA.

"The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund acknowledges 54 former students of Edison High School were killed in Vietnam. Over time, though, the school added more names of former students who returned from the war but died of injuries sustained there."



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